Planning That Perfectly Disaster-Free Summer Tour
The Grizzly Band
Photo by Daniel Torres
It's summer. No 7 a.m. classes. You've saved your money. You've hoarded your vacation and sick days because you need those perks now.
You've made all these sacrifices and more to be able to team with your kindred spirits and take your band on the road. You've planned to go forth and conquer with all the precision and foresight of Alexander the Great. But before you can start weeping over no other worlds to conquer, are you ready for the battles you'll face on this particular roadie?
Two bands, one local getting ready to tour and the other just passing through, recently shared their best advice on this musical rite of passage.
Have a good, working vehicle -- or a good, working backup plan if you don't. Playing your music in another city is a great thing, provided you can get there. The nature of your independent musical enterprise means you may have a van that's been resuscitated more times than a CPR dummy.
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Jay Crash's band, Dirty Kid Discount, ran through Houston and played a swagger-filled punk set at Walter's last month. If you're planning to drive from Oregon to Texas, as DKD did, you don't do it on a whim. Before his large band ever crowded Walters' stage, they crowded into a van they trusted to make the trip.
Crash says it's good to have someone with at least Auto Mechanics 101 caked under her or his fingernails on board. He's been in music 15 years now, about half that time as a professional tour manager for bands like Subhumans, Star Fucking Hipsters and Leftover Crack. He said he learned some basic mechanics from Rick Lopez of the Casualties, who knows more about cars than most musicians, but that even with a shade-tree mechanic on board, you need to be prepared for the worst.
"This tour we're on right now is a prime example," explains Crash. "I planned as well as I could, but we still had a transmission problem with the van. But, I had a line of credit, so we were able to reschedule our show and rent a vehicle to get there while the van got repaired."
It's OK to stay in-state. The whole notion of touring is to take your act to folks elsewhere who haven't heard it. Like Lana Turner at the soda fountain, you could get discovered by being at the right place at the right time. But that place doesn't necessarily have to be at Schwab's in Hollywood.
"We have done something different in this band than we have done in our respective previous bands," says Chad Grizzly of local Americana rockers The Grizzly Band. "We have not done extensive touring to work harder on building the hometown fan base; but, we have done too-numerous-to-count Texas runs. Which has really been to our benefit, seeing how large Texas is."
The Grizzly Band parlayed those Texas excursions, and loads of musical talent recalling everyone from Johnny Cash to Social Distortion, into a deal with Altercation Records. So, their approach worked well for them. Since the band's members aren't quite ready to ditch their day jobs, traveling within the state's borders makes touring more feasible, too.
"Our work schedules are crazy to plan around," says Grizzly. "That's why we generally do four- to five-day runs often, so we aren't really on the road for more than a week."
If you're a crybaby, don't pack your bags. Crash went on his first road trip as a teenager, acting as a roadie for Texas punk legends M.D.C. on a European tour. Since then, he's lived the tour life and says there's no shame in admitting it's not for everyone.
"Touring with a lot of people has some challenges, but even those challenges become advantages," he says. "You learn to lean on each other and know each other's strengths. But, everyone is not made for the road, so once you know who isn't, you agree to just part ways."
Until your tour rider says you will only be served green apple Now-N-Laters backstage, you can't bitch about surviving on $5 Little Caesar's. If your hotel room looks like a scene from Trainspotting, just be glad there's a roof over your head. Grizzly says the best time to cover these matters is before you ever have to sniff a bandmate's Corn Nuts fart in the van: back at home, in the comfort and ignorant bliss of pre-tour life.
"Logistics meetings -- they are essential," he notes. "Schedules, money, your stops, your tourist stops, figuring out set lists for every stop on the tour. Promotion, finding places to crash and more time in the rehearsal space to make everything sound perfect. This all has to be covered."
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Know the show is about more than your time onstage. Spending so much time around established acts, Crash says he's learned the importance of addressing every aspect of a show, which goes way beyond the music being played live that night.
"Have your act down," he points out. "You get one chance to make a first impression, everyone in the band should know their parts. Have a good, solid recording to promote and good merch, something that people will want."
Don't forget to network, either, Grizzly adds. It's all part of touring and is an important doorway to other shows and better opportunities. His band recently played a Saturday afternoon set at Rocklahoma, a three-day fest that featured acts like Deftones and Kid Rock. Even if the many 50,000 in attendance didn't catch their set, those who did are helping them book new gigs and fest opportunities.
One thing to not make the show about: money.
"Don't depend on venue guarantees," says Grizzly. "Save your money and plan far enough ahead to figure out all facets of a worst-case scenario."
Family first, band second. The night before The Grizzly Band played Rocklahoma, they rocked at home at Scout Bar. The show ended and they packed up for a 12-hour drive. Because they treat each other like family, what could have been stressful and uncomfortable -- remember, they did have to drive through Dallas to get there -- "started with smiles and ended with smiles," according to Grizzly.
Crash says he's been around some incredible musicians as a tour manager. Some were also great people, while others were assholes. The assholes were the ones who didn't consider the people making the trek alongside them.
"If someone calls a dinner night, where music business gets put on hold, you do it," he says. "You're a family. You've got to respect each other and be people first, then a band."
Jump in, the water's nice. Everything is set. You've planned and it's time to hit the road. Be excited and go get 'em.
"Honestly, I think once you have established yourself in your respective city, it's extremely important to tour in order to gain momentum," Grizzly says. "The Internet talks. Without listeners and without new audiences and markets, you are essentially spinning your wheels."
The Grizzly Band will hold a record release July 11 at Union Tavern for its first full-length record for Altercation Records. Dirty Kid Discount's A Life Amongst the Ruins is available on Bandcamp.
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